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No Roger or Serena: Australian Open starts without 2 big stars

MELBOURNE – Dressed in a dark blue T-shirt with a bearing Roger Federer name and pushes a gray stroller with her one-year-old daughter Martina (as in Hingis) into Australian OpenAngelica Ybarra spoke for many tennis fans when she described her mood on the first day of the Grand Slam after the two most significant athletes in the sport ended their careers.

“I grew up watching Roger play, so for me, tennis is Roger and Roger is tennis,” said Ybarra, who said she is from Colombia and now lives in Melbourne. “Not seeing Roger again at tennis is a little emotional. I also like women’s tennis, and the Williams sisters are not here either. But I am very happy to see the promising talents of the new generation. This will be my first time watching some new players.”

The 2023 Australian Open, which kicked off on an overcast Monday morning (Sunday evening EST), is certainly not the first Grand Slam to be played without Roger Federer or Serena Williams.

This was also the case at the 2022 Australian Open, to name just one example.

What’s different now is that this is the first major tournament since Federer and Williams – two figures more than a game, more than a life, both 41 and with a combined 43 Slam singles championships and multi-year weeks at No. 1 in the rankings, they announced they were retiring (or, to use her favorite term, “evolving”).

“They were amazing for the sport. They are still there. You think these people will, in a sense, never retire. And the fact that they really stop allows you to look at things in a new way,” said Bianca Andreescu, the 21-year-old Canadian who beat Williams in the 2019 US Open final and eliminated 25th seed Marie Buzkova 6-2. 6-4 on Monday. . “Roger didn’t play for a long time before retiring and even then he felt a little weird. Serena was also agitated and depressed.”

So while in years past, absences of one sort or another were met with a shrug of “Don’t worry, she’ll be on the next one” or “Hey, he’s definitely coming back, right?” now there is a certainty in all of this, the ultimate knowing that they are actually made. (No matter how many people may keep looking for signs that Williams isn’t really done yet.)

“Look, Serena Williams is irreplaceable. I mean, she’s an icon on and off the court,” said Steve Simon, head of the women’s tennis tour. “I look at it like this: I don’t think we’re losing Serena; we’re just going to celebrate her and all her accomplishments for many, many years to come and remember what she brought to the game.”

Similar sentiments can and have been expressed about Federer.

“Obviously,” eight-time world champion John McEnroe said of Federer, “there is a void that will never be filled.”

However, the sport must go on.

And now the beginning of the proceedings on the blue hard courts of Melbourne flashes in the faces and games that will fill the empty space.

Players aiming for a first Grand Slam title, such as a pair of American top 10 players, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, who won in straight sets in matches that began shortly after 11 am local time. So is Yannick Sinner, a lanky 21-year-old Italian who is considered one of those with a chance of eventually making it to the top. A later fight is scheduled: Federer’s longtime rival, top seed Rafael Nadal, is still in it at age 36 and the holder of a men’s record 22 Grand Slam trophies.

Even other players find it a bit frustrating to look through the Australian Open grid, and they are well aware that there is no point in looking up the names of Federer or Williams.

“Of course it’s weird. They were great athletes, great players, legends of the game. But tennis is still going on and there will be new players to look out for, new players who will win Grand Slams,” said Kasper Ruud, a Norwegian runner-up in Melbourne and runner-up at the French Open. and the US Open last season. “Hopefully we will see more first time winners. It would be a dream come true.”

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.



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